Saturday, June 2, 2007

Thinking About Miss Melly

For my birthday this year, my parents bought me prints of one of my favorite movie characters, Melanie from Gone with the Wind. I have loved these photos for years and think Olivia de Havilland is in this film the most beautiful woman ever to grace the screen. It has been an every-other-year-or-so tradition since I was thirteen for my mom and I to camp out on the couch with pillows and blankets and watch the movie together, and my parents have laughed at me every single time because I never fail to exclaim “Really! Why does everyone make such a fuss about Scarlett?! Melanie is beautiful! Look at her!” The film’s costume designers kept “Melly” in what they considered dowdy clothing and necessarily bland mourning clothes so as to contrast her with flounced-up Scarlett, but Melanie’s beauty, like all true beauty, wasn’t dependent on flashy makeup or fancy clothing anyway. (And I’d happily wear any of her Gone with the Wind costumes. Oh, for the opportunity to wear such gorgeous dresses every day! I’ll say it again: I was born in the wrong century.) Today ninety years old, Olivia de Havilland is still beautiful, but she herself has stated in interviews that out of her entire career, there was just something special about the role of Melanie and that ever since portraying her, she has found herself trying to live up to the character’s goodness. I think that goodness is precisely what sets Melanie apart from countless other pretty movie characters. Here is a woman who understands the wisdom of kindness--And you can see it in her face.
It struck me the last time I watched the movie that I’ve never heard anyone discuss Melanie and Rhett’s friendship. Delicate and modest, Melanie has more strength and smarts than maybe anyone else in the film, and Rhett himself is savvy enough to see and appreciate that. It is Melanie who listens to Rhett when he breaks down over his failings as a husband to Scarlett, it is from Melanie that an ecstatic Rhett comes up with the name for his newborn daughter, and when the little girl dies and Rhett refuses to see anyone or let the girl be buried, Melanie is the only one respected enough by him to be allowed in. When, after hours of being locked in the grief-stricken man’s room with him and his daughter’s body, an exhausted Melanie appears at the door and lets Mammy know that Rhett’s agreed to bury the girl and that she should bring him coffee and sandwiches, we know just what this woman and her friendship with Rhett is made of. On her deathbed, she implores Scarlett to be kind to him. “He loves you so.” Rhett and Melanie are unlikely friends but friends just the same. And even at thirteen, I only had to see how gentlemanly this playboy of a man was to her to know that he was ultimately good. Most women swoon over the handsome character as soon as they see him—my mom always says her “Ooh, Baby!” the first second he appears on-screen—but I couldn’t really like him until I trusted him. He passed that “Val-test.”
So now I get to see my beloved “Miss Melly” every day, and so I am reminded every time I look at her of the kind of person and lady and friend I want to be. In a line that stops me in my tracks, Melanie’s husband, Ashley, describes her as “the only dream I ever had that didn't die in the face of reality.”  Beautiful.


DrMom said...

I have a pen-and-ink drawing of Clark Gable as Rhett hanging in my upstairs hall.

Melanie is a wonderful character, and you are right--Olivia DeHavilland is an absolute beauty.

Val said...

I love finding out these things, drmom. I never would have guessed that you're a Rhett fan. :)

DrMom said...

Oh, he's just DREAMY!

Val said...

He has his appeal, yes, but see, I just can't enjoy Rhett the way other people do: he reminds me of one of my uncles. :) The uncle is my mom's older brother, but she doesn't see any resemblance at all, so luckily for her, she still gets to say her "Ooh, Baby!" every time. To me, it's more like "There's Uncle Dan again!" :)

Nikki via The Scarlett Rose Garden said...

Lovely, lovely post! She is beautiful, even today!

I have a few photos of her, one being a pic from the 40's.

From what I've read tho, she is far from the Melanie character. It's a shame she and her sister faught so.

She is a marvelous actress. I'd like to see more of her old flicks.
Did you see the making of GWTW, the others who tried the role of Melanie were just HORRIBLE!

Great to hear from you again!

Sue said...

Since you're a fan of both GWTW and kitties, you may like this blog:

Val said...

Sue, hello! Thank you so much for sharing that with me. It looks like a really sweet (and entertaining) blog. :) ~ Val

Lisa said...

I just stumbled upon this post! Yes, she was perfectly lovely - her features so well balanced. A favorite of mine is "Robin Hood", with that handsome devil, Errol Flynn.

Val said...

Hi, Lisa! I haven't seen that yet. I've only seen Errol Flynn in photos so far. I should remedy that. He looks like a charmer. :)